M.Ed. CAPSTONE: The Journey of Students

Program Goal:
3. Apply an advanced understanding of learning and cognition theories such that diverse learning outcomes and educational needs for all students are addressed.

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.
~ Fred Rogers ~

“Play sessions help children develop the self-understanding, self-acceptance, personal power, self-control, and self-discipline that assist them in accomplishing academic, social, and personal goals.”
(Robinson et al., 2007, p.21)

"Students who collaborate to solve problems become aware of new ways that knowledge can be used and combined, which forms new synaptic connections. Further, problem based learning is apt to appeal to students’ motivation and engender emotional involvement, which also can create more extensive neural networks.” (Schunk, 2012, p.66)

How does the journey of our students take shape? 
What can we do as educators to best support students on their journey? 
Can we capture the journey for purposes of reflection and celebration? 
These are just a few of the questions that have emerged for me about the learning and development of children. Throughout my coursework, I have been introduced to many cognition theories, each of which sheds a little more light on how best to support students to reach their academic potential. It is only now, as I look back at past papers and reflections, that I recognize a common thread with those theories that resonate most profoundly with me. That is the importance of the connections and relationships we cultivate. Through these iterations, I demonstrate my fulfillment of Program Goal 2 to apply an advanced understanding of learning theories such that the educational needs of all students are addressed.

How can we make student thinking visible? 
In EU 530 I investigated how best to capture student thinking. This was based on a problem of practice rooted in the inability to capture learning moments, such as reading records, in the classroom. Using Notability on my iPad, I recorded each student’s reading and documented this for assessment and reflection purposes. Technology became a tool for making student thinking visible and sharable. What began as something to help with tracking progress for my own purposes, became so much more. I found that when students see themselves reflected in the learning that is happening in the classroom, they are far more engaged. We take pictures, annotate, review, refine, analyze. All of this builds a community of learners whose voices are all important. Moving forward I hope to extend this to students utilizing their own e-portfolio.

Does brain research support this? 
I have always had a passion for science, understanding processes and new developments, so I was excited to learn about the neuroscience of learning in EU 505. The more students are involved in the process of learning, through problem solving, rich discussions, and meaningful tasks, the greater the likelihood that neural connections will be created. This is at the heart of our task as educators. Brain research also explains how emotions affect learning, both positively and negatively. Motivational states are neural connections that are constantly in flux and include the integration of emotions, cognition, and behaviours (Schunk, 2012). Educators promote learning by providing positive emotional experiences within the classroom, such as discussions and hands-on activities. In the classroom, talk matters. Checking in each day through community circle, discussing ‘real world’ applications across the curriculum, and connecting ideas with our own personal experiences help to support student learning. The learning process, and the individual and collective journeys that occur throughout the year, are far more important than the products.

How does play support learning? 
In both of my interdisciplinary courses play and its impact on the social, emotional, and academic development of children was explored. I came across an excerpt from one of my reflection papers from TH663 that summarizes my most important learning. “It is important to be an observer and listener; allowing students to tell their own stories as they are capable of self-direction and growth. Focusing on the process of learning instead of the product can increase students’ confidence and self-efficacy.” What is astounding is how this reflection links back to neuroscience as well as making student thinking visible. Each student enters our classrooms with personal experiences and perspectives that shape their interactions with others and the connections they make with learning. Allowing students to tell their own stories supports learning and development. Capturing student thinking and reflection using digital tools helps make it ‘real’ for them. This could be taking a picture of a Lego creation and allowing them to write about its significance. It could be annotating pictures from a field trip and developing new ‘wonderings’. It could be videotaping students working in collaborative groups and discussing their observations. Opportunities for play and reflection are critical in the holistic development of students.

I love being a teacher. I relish in witnessing the daily ‘ah ha’ moments of my students. Seeing them give feedback to each other and embrace challenges brightens my day. For me, a big part (actually the biggest part) of being an educator is developing relationships with and between my students. I can plan the most exciting activities, think of the most enticing questions to spark curiosity, use the most innovative tools, but if I am not developing relationships then all this is for not. Students need to make connections, use previous experiences, link new ideas with their world. This is only possible through building relationships. Giving much treasured time to talk is so necessary. Understanding where students are at and taking a strengths-based approach, ensures that each student is validated in their own journey. I am reassured that theory says the same.


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